from “The Letter-Box,” St. Nicholas: Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys, January 1875, pp. 196, 197
ST. NICHOLAS lived over 1400 years ago in the city of Patara, in Asia Minor. He is said to have been from the first a wonderfully saintly child, and when he became a man, though he was but a simple citizen, he rose through his active piety, to be Bishop of Myra. Wonderful stories are related of his good deeds, and some of them are commemorated to this day in the various churches of Europe.
A wealthy gentleman in Asia, the story runs, sent his two sons to Athens to be educated. He charged the boys at parting to stop at Myra on their way and pay their respects to his reverence, the bishop. The boys reached the city at night, and took lodgings in an inn, intending to make the promised call in the morning.
Now the landlord was a very wicked man, and when he saw the boys’ rich store of baggage he resolved to rob and murder them. So when the poor boys were asleep, he crept up to their room and dispatched them, and, to conceal his terrible deed, he cut up their bodies and packed them in a pickling-tub with some pork, intending to sell the whole to some ship in the Adriatic.
Now good St. Nicholas that night saw it all in a dream, and in the morning he put on his pontifical robes (for he was now an archbishop), and, with his crozier in his hand, went in holy indignation to the inn.
The landlord was greatly frightened when he saw the archbishop, and on being accused, fell upon his knees and confessed his crime.
St. Nicholas next went to the tub in his pontificals, and he passed his hands over the boys, who at once hopped up and out of the pickled pork alive and whole. The happy fellows began to sing praises to St. Nicholas, but he, good soul, would not listen to it. He told them to worship none but God. The boys, at once recovering their possessions, went on their way rejoicing, and St. Nicholas was regarded as the special protector of boys and students from that hour.
Most of the old pictures represent three boys in the pickling-tub, all with uplifted hands, praising good St. Nicholas. We suspect that three boys in the tub, instead of two, better suited the fancy of the old artists. It did not make a great deal of difference in point of fact, and it certainly made a better picture.
“But how came St. Nicholas to be the patron of Christmas gifts and the particular saint of the Christmas holidays?”
After St. Nicholas was made archbishop at Myra, he became very rich, and because he despised money for his own sake, he spent a good portion of his time in giving away his money to others, and in such a way that none should know from whom it came. It chanced that there was a very poor nobleman in Myra, who had three lovely daughters. Knowing that they could have no marriage portion, St. Nicholas, considerate soul, felt pity for them, and one moonlight night he took a purse, round as a ball with gold, and, throwing it into the open window at the feet of the eldest daughter, he hid himself from view. The eldest daughter could now marry. What a good saint St. Nicholas was, and what a pity he died so long ago!
After awhile, the Saint visited the nobleman’s premises again, and did the same mysterious kindness to the second daughter. The nobleman now began to keep watch at night in order to discover whence his sudden good fortune came. As good St. Nicholas was about to throw another rounded purse at the feet of the third daughter, he was discovered by the grateful father, who threw himself at his feet, saying: “O St. Nicholas, servant of God, why seek to hide thyself?”
St. Nicholas made the nobleman promise never to tell the discovery he had made; but the secret escaped in some unaccountable way, and after St. Nicholas died, the nuns of the convents in the East used to imitate him on certain holidays in making secret gifts to their friends. They used to put silk stockings at the door of the abbess at night, and label them with a paper invoking the liberal aid of good St. Nicholas. In the morning the stocking would be found full of presents.
In time, as you know, children began to imitate this custom, especially at Christmas.
St. Nicholas used annually to be honored in the old English churches by the election of a boy-bishop, whom the whole church were accustomed to obey for a short time, because St. Nicholas was the patron of boys. He is still honored with a grand festival at Bari on the Adriatic, is the patron saint of Russia, and of the mariners on the great winter seas, and his name is borne by the Russian czars. He also is the patron saint of New York city, which, you know, was settled by the Dutch, and of all saints he is most reverenced in Holland. But there the young folks do him honor on St. Nicholas day, which comes on the 6th of [December] keeping it very much as we do the Christmas holidays.
I don’t object to “Santa Claus,”
“Kris Kringle,” and the rest;
But looking into it, I find
St. Nicholas suits me best!
From St. Nicholas: Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys, January 1875; rhyme from the St. Nicholas magazine 1914 calendar